Which is why so many folks take Exit 100 off I-77 to downtown Mount Airy, Andy Griffith's hometown. The town lacks the visual exactitude of Mayberry‚ the show's exteriors were filmed on a back lot in Culver City—and some of the buildings served as Atlanta in "Gone With the Wind"—but Mount Airy has heartily embraced its role as a real-life Mayberry. In 1989, when Russell Hiatt changed the name of his shop from City Barber Shop to Floyd's, out-of-towners began streaming in for haircuts (more than 700,000 visitors have signed his guest books). This did not escape the notice of other Mount Airy enterprises. I stayed at the Mayberry Motor Inn (formerly the Mount Airy Motel), across from the Colonial Mayberry Mall and Aunt Bee's Barbecue. Walking through downtown, I passed Opie's Candy Store, Mayberry Country Store, Barney's cafe, Mayberry Embroidery, and Snappy Lunch, which opened in 1923 and is the only "Mayberry" business that predates the show. In the seventh episode of the first season, Andy suggests to Barney that they double-date and stop for a bite at Snappy Lunch after the picture show. Travelers have heeded Andy's advice ever since, still lining up today for Snappy's fried-pork-chop-and-coleslaw sandwiches.
The actual town is larger than the fictional one (10,800 Mount Airy residents versus 1,800 in Mayberry), but visitors find an old-fashioned main street with an old-fashioned hardware store that has a potbelly stove. There's a genuine small-town affability here, despite the erosion of small-town life. Over my pork chop sandwich I read an article in the local paper with a Mayberry-like headline: "Retired Schoolteacher Reminisces About 40 Years in the School System." But the content diverged: "Children didn't bring guns to school then," the teacher said. "If they had a problem they would just fight‚ but it's different now." With factories moving overseas, Mount Airy has lost nearly 3,100 textile jobs since 1999. Yet the gap between the "real" Mayberry and the "fictional" Mayberry doesn't concern most visitors. The real Mayberry, after all, isn't found on a map. It's a state of being.